Romania ride once again on the winds of change
Ahead of throw-off of the Women's EHF EURO 2022 in November, eurohandball.com is publishing a series presenting each of the 16 teams participating in the final tournament. Today, the spotlight turns to Romania.
Romania changed their coach this autumn for the sixth time in the past seven years in the hope that the change will drive them back to the top of European handball once again.
Florentin Pera, who has three seasons at the helm of teams that took part in the EHF Champions League Women, is the new man in charge – but can his attention to detail and defence-first mentality help Romania get back into the fold, after some disappointing results?
- Romania’s last top 10 finish at a major international tournament was the fourth place at the EHF EURO 2018
- the 12th-place finish at the EHF EURO 2020, when Romania only won a single game, against Poland, was their worst-ever finish in the history of the competition
- Cristina Neagu, Romania’s captain and most influential player, is the all-time top scorer of the EHF EURO with 264 goals, one of the two players to have ever hit the 200-goal mark
- Romania will feature in group C of the EHF EURO 2022, alongside France, the Netherlands and North Macedonia, playing in Skopje
- they have taken part in 14 of the 15 tournaments at the EHF EURO, but won a single medal, the bronze in 2010, finishing fourth two times
Three questions ahead of the Women’s EHF EURO 2022:
- What do the players understand of what’s happening at the national team?
In the last 17 years, Romania have changed their coach nine times, with six of those changes coming in the past seven years. The strategy has been patchy, with Sweden’s Tomas Ryde and Spain’s Ambros Martin bringing in new ideas and a new training methodology, only for Romania to revert to their own coaches in the past three years.
Yet Florentin Pera, the current coach, and Bogdan Burcea, who served as the head coach between 2020 and 2021 and is now an assistant in Pera’s team, have a different understanding of handball than Adrian Vasile, who led the team at the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship.
With so many different styles and plenty of change, players have had little time to adapt, despite the main core of the team remaining more or same the less over the past years. That could account for their disappointing recent results, including a 12th place finish at the EHF EURO 2020, the worst in the history of the team.
- Does Florentin Pera have enough time to get the team back on track?
Pera was confirmed in September as the new coach for Romania’s women national team, replacing Adrian Vasile, whose contract was up in July. Pera, who recently finished his one-year stint at Russian side CSKA, had only two months to prepare for the EHF EURO 2022 and only three friendly games prior to the throw off, at the Carpathian Trophy, where Romanian faced Austria, Serbia and Spain.
Pera has plenty of experience as a coach, having featured in the EHF Champions League Women, but this is his first time on the bench of a national team, which means less time to prepare the squad, help the team gel and impose his defence-first philosophy.
- Can Romania finish in the top 10 of a major competition for the first time since EHF EURO 2018?
Four years ago, Romania finished fourth at the EHF EURO, after Cristina Neagu suffered a season-ending injury in a main round match against Hungary. It went downhill from that point on, as Romania lost their next two games and never returned to the top, finishing 12th and 13th at the 2019 and 2021 world championships and 12th at the EHF EURO 2020.
For the first time since 2018, Romania will have Cristina Neagu at 100 per cent, after she chose to miss the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship, but the supporting cast is definitely not up to Neagu’s talent or level of performance. In the end, her form will be critical for Romania’s performance at the EHF EURO 2022, yet a group with France, the Netherlands and North Macedonia is a very tough one to navigate for a side that has been looking constantly for guidance over the last few years.
Under the spotlight: Cristina Neagu
This will be Neagu’s eighth consecutive edition of the EHF EURO. The Romanian stalwart is the all-time top goal scorer in the competition, with 264 goals, 58 more than any other player. For the past decade, Romania’s fortunes have been definitely linked to Neagu, who is roughly 150 goals away of becoming the third player in history to hit the 1,000-goal milestone for Romania, after Mariana Tîrcă and Steluța Luca.
However, Neagu turned 34 in August and this could likely be one of her last EHF EUROs in a star-studded career. Her influence is still unparalleled, though. She secured the top goal scorer title in last season’s EHF Champions League Women, with 110 goals, and she will likely become the first player to hit 300 goals at the EHF EURO, a record which she will certainly hold for a long time.
Injuries have taken a toll in Neagu’s career, but the Romanian captain will surely be the key cog in the team’s engine room, with her efficiency being key. If Neagu thrives at the EHF EURO 2022, Romania have a chance to break into the top 10. If she is not helped by teammates, the situation will worsen for Florentin Pera’s side.
Did you know?
Romania have missed only one edition of the EHF EURO, in 2006, when they were eliminated in the Qualification play-offs by Serbia, just a few months after securing the silver medal at the World Championship
What the numbers say:
36 – Cristina Neagu needs only 36 goals at the EHF EURO 2022 to become the first-ever player to score 300 goals in the history of the European Championship, in both men’s and women’s tournaments. Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson is the all-time top scorer in the men’s tournament, with 288 goals
The heart of the team: Crina Pintea
There is no player in the current Romanian squad who displays her heart on her sleeve more than Crina Pintea. Starting from humbling beginnings, Pintea worked hard to become one of the top line players in the world and has duly confirmed her status with consistent performances in the EHF Champions League Women. A strong defender and the leader of the team on that part of the ball, Pintea loves playing for the national team and has always been a leader on and off the court.
EHF EURO participations (including 2022): 14
Bronze medal (1): 2010